Kosovo's Beleaguered Minorities: Three Degrees And Another On The Way, But Still No Job

By Nadije Ahmeti

PRISTINA -- Amanda Toska has learned a lot.

The 32-year-old Pristina native has two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree, and is pursuing a fourth.

But, so far, the secret to landing a job in Kosovo's civil service has eluded her.

Four times she's applied for various positions within state institutions, including the Health Ministry and the national public broadcaster, and four times she's been rejected.

"I suspect that the refusal of work was due to the fact that I belong to the Romany community," Toska told RFE/RL's Balkan Service, "because I've always applied for positions for which I'm qualified."

Where can you gain experience when there's no opportunity for a job?"
-- Amanda Toska

She's one of thousands of frustrated job seekers from a woefully unemployed segment of the Balkans' newest state since its declaration of sovereignty from Serbia 14 years ago.

Kosovo has perhaps more than its share of challenges, both short- and long-term.

They range from partial international recognition that's blocking UN membership and bedeviling Pristina's governments to a disaffected Serb minority and unresolved questions about wartime atrocities, as well as a nationwide teachers strike this month that has canceled classes for 320,000 schoolchildren.

What has gotten less attention in the former Serbian province is its ongoing problem with joblessness among smaller ethnic groups like the Romany, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian minorities.

The situation remains a drag on the aspiring EU member and an obstacle to integration in a region where ethnic enmities underlying the Balkan wars of the 1990s are fresh in the minds of many and reconciliation has been slower than many hoped.

'Margins Of Kosovar Society'

The Romany, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian communities total 40,000 or so people in a country of 1.7 million forged from an ethnic Albanian-led war of independence in the late 1990s that led to the 2008 declaration of sovereignty.

That represents less than 1 percent of the total population, versus the roughly 6-7 percent of Kosovars who are ethnic Serb, according to official government data.

The Romany community is the smallest of the three based on the 2011 census, at fewer than 9,000 members, with more than 15,000 Ashkali and over 11,000 Kosovar Egyptians.

The European Commission warned in its latest progress report on Kosovo that too little headway had been made and the situation for the Romany, Ashkali, and Egyptian minorities remains "challenging."

It said "more needs to be done to effectively guarantee the rights" of all three groups.

The OSCE noted in its overview in 2020 that Romany, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians "often live at the margins of [Kosovar] society, struggling with high unemployment rates and low educational attainment."

"When members of the three communities are employed, it is often seasonal manual labor," the OSCE said, adding, "Some work in the public sector, mainly as teachers or civil servants."

Representatives of NGOs that advocate greater integration and try to combat injustice argue that discrimination is the biggest factor in such unemployment, beyond but sometimes in conjunction with lower educational achievement, despite recent improvements.

They say the members of those minorities frequently aren't considered for job openings, including in the budgetary sector.

"The government's previous justification that there are no qualified personnel no longer holds," Bashkim Ibishi, director of the Advancing Together NGO, said. "There are plenty of competitive guys and gals in the market. But, unfortunately, there's no understanding on the government's part to engage them in public institutions."

Ibishi, who is Romany, said his own son had applied six times for a job with the Foreign Ministry since receiving his master's degree in political science and diplomacy and had never been invited to an interview.

He said the NGO sector was virtually the only reliable employer of young Roma, Ashkalis, and Balkan Egyptians.

Ninety-Percent Joblessness

Kosovo's constitution, adopted in 2008, prescribes that "the composition of the civil service shall reflect the diversity of the people of Kosovo."

The country adopted a new law on civil service in 2010 that sought in part to standardize recruitment. It required that 10 percent of the jobs in national public institutions be filled by minorities, with additional quotas at more local levels dependent on the makeup of specific communities.

Twelve years later, Voice of Roma, Ashkalis, and Egyptians (VoRAE), a local NGO that says its mission is social justice, says 113 of Kosovo's 80,000 public-sector jobs are held by all three of those communities combined.

The Interior Ministry says it employs just 36 members of those minorities with a staff of more than 13,000 people.

Officials acknowledge that there's a problem.

More than 90 percent of Roma, Ashkalis, and Balkan Egyptians are jobless, according to data from the Office for Community Affairs within Prime Minister Albin Kurti's administration.

The unemployment figure for Kosovo's larger minority communities of Serbs and Turks is high but less than half that figure, at 40 percent.

In June, the government established an "inter-institutional team" to encourage and promote employment of Roma, Ashkalis, and Balkan Egyptians.

"Within this mechanism, we are identifying education profiles, age, [and] geographical aspects to see where we can orient and employ these communities in public institutions," Habit Hajredini, director of the presidential Office for Community Affairs, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

Romany NGO head Ibishi said that's not enough and suggested that some job offers should be restricted solely to Roma, Ashkalis, or Balkan Egyptians.

Job seeker Toska, meanwhile, said she expects to add a master's degree in inclusive education to her previous master's degree in education-sector management and her undergraduate degrees in business administration and in education.

She has vowed to keep up her pursuit of a job in Kosovo's public sector, along with her education.

The Health Ministry failed to respond to an RFE/RL query concerning Toska's application.

The public broadcaster, Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK), responded broadly that "the process of electing members of the RTK board is done by the Assembly of Kosovo," the national parliament.

"Discrimination [in employment] takes place in the application of criteria, when work experience is required," said Toska, who has cooperated with VoRAE. "The young people of these communities have no work experience. Where can you gain experience when there's no opportunity for a job?"

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Nadije Ahmeti.